Periodical Reviews -- By: Andrew J. Cress

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 175:697 (Jan 2018)
Article: Periodical Reviews
Author: Andrew J. Cress

Periodical Reviews

By The Faculty And Staff Of Dallas Theological Seminary

Andrew J. Cress


“Ehrman, Bauckham and Bird on Memory and the Jesus Tradition,” Alan Kirk, Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 12 (2017): 88–114.

Historical Jesus work has recently fixated on the time gap between the events of Jesus’s ministry and the composition of the gospels. Depending on the Gospel in question and debates concerning dates of composition, this gap can range from thirty to sixty years. Skeptical readings of the evidence claim that much could happen in that period of time, such that the tradition became distorted beyond recognition. Bart Ehrman’s book Jesus before the Gospels (HarperOne, 2016) claims that the tradition was as reliable as a child’s game of telephone. Richard Bauckham’s work Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (Eerdmans, 2006; 2017) challenged this more skeptical perspective by demonstrating how the tradition could be rooted in eyewitness work and remain connected to those roots. Michael Bird, in The Gospel of the Lord (Eerdmans, 2014), has made a case for the reliability of the gospel tradition while summing up the current state of discussion regarding how eyewitness testimony and memory function within the development of tradition to form a reliable base.

Kirk’s article reviews and assesses these approaches to the Jesus tradition. He finds all of them deficient to a degree, although Ehrman receives Kirk’s harshest critique. The result is an article that is a fine assessment of the current state of discussion in this area, though it may underestimate some of Bird’s work concerning the community circulation and development of the gospel tradition.

Kirk critically analyzes Ehrman’s selective use of key studies on orality and memory. He demonstrates that Ehrman chooses material in ways that distort the conclusions of these studies. In one case, he illustrates that Ehrman neglected significant developments in later research, ignoring one noteworthy author’s complete reversal of his prior conclusions regarding the transmission of oral tradition. Ehrman also errs in having an “individual chain” model instead of a “community network” model. Core studies in orality and memory argue that the community model is more trustworthy due to the repetition and simultaneous wide audience that tradition-rooted networks provide.

For Kirk, Bauckham struggles to clearly articulate how the movement from eyewitness testimony to community tradition took place. He contends that Bauckham treats the two categories as if they are almost

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